Cross-sector workshop aims to support agricultural climate solutions
In the state of Minnesota, the agriculture, forestry and other land use sector – known as AFOLU – provides more than 37 billion dollars in revenue and nearly 400,000 jobs – along with 22% of the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That makes it a significant player in a state that plans to hit 80% GHG reduction by 2050. Knowing this, how might the Minnesota agriculture sector continue to provide for the state, while simultaneously reducing its emissions and working toward a more sustainable future?
This is the question the Institute on the Environment set out to help answer with a five-part Agricultural Climate Solutions Workshop that started on Monday, October 19, and will continue to unfold over the next four weeks.
Preparations began more than a year ago. Heidi Ries, an IonE climate and energy researcher, and IonE colleagues conducted more than 50 interviews in a wide-ranging knowledge assessment, which helped map the many sector stakeholders and knowledge gaps. IonE lead scientists Jennifer Schmitt and Eric Lonsdorf contributed to narrowing the final list of attendees, which includes a wide-ranging group of people from outside of the University, along with U of M students, staff, and faculty.
“We wanted a diverse group of stakeholders that represent the many groups of people that are necessary to come together to create solutions,” explains Schmitt. “This included people from industry, farmers, farmer groups, tribal nations, government, environmental organizations, and academia.”
The first session kicked off with four “discussion catalyst” speakers, who addressed some of the known knowledge gaps, such as identifying the best management practices for GHG reductions in the sector; how credit might be provided for early climate action; the challenges of parcel size and land ownership (the limitations of renting vs. owning); as well as what might come beyond cover crops and no till practices in a reimagined agriculture sector.
Breakout groups discussed these unknowns – and began developing ideas to address them. Over the next four meetings, the group will focus on creative, collective thinking about how people with a stake in the AFOLU could collaborate to reduce GHG emissions, positioning the entire sector for a statewide climate leadership role.
“While there currently are many projects and efforts across all of the groups participating in the workshop – from collaboration among farmers and businesses, to state government programs and research, NGOs promoting cleaner biofuels and sustainable agriculture practices, and academia studying soil carbon science and climate solutions – the goal of the workshop is to spur more work in the area,” says Ries.
To that end, on November 16 the workshop will wrap-up with a work session to more fully develop partnered, collaborative projects that could reduce AFOLU sector emissions. Thanks to support provided by the McKnight Foundation and IonE, a total of $100,000 in grant funding will be available to move forward with projects that meet the goal of creating a more sustainable sector.
For IonE lead scientist Eric Lonsdorf, the purpose is in the process: “For me, the best outcome of the workshops is that we – one – create a stronger network of collaboration across farming systems in Minnesota; two – build trust and improved understanding of University of Minnesota faculty and the farming community; and three – that these two things lead to collective effort to reduce GHG emissions and maintain or improve farmer livelihoods in the state.”
The Agricultural Climate Solutions Workshop is part two of the Minnesota’s Clean Energy Future series, supported by Xcel Energy. Lauren Klemstein is a student communications assistant at the Institute on the Environment.